Saw Wonder Woman last Thursday. Was pleasantly pleased. The other DC Universe films were so bad that I had pretty low expectations, but this one wasn’t terrible. The pacing was good. The story sort of held together. And the character arc felt at least a little bit fresh and interesting.
I also thought it was interesting to have a romantic subplot that felt a little bit less shoe-horned than normal. I’ve become so accustomed to action movies that don’t have the slightest hint of chemistry between the male and female leads that I guess I’d even forgotten what chemistry looked like. In this case, it honestly did feel like Steve Trevor and Diana actually, you know, were interested in each other. And when they kissed it felt a little bit less perfunctory than normal (a little bit).
Also was interesting to see a female hero who is so much more powerful than her romantic interest. I mean it’s not that Steve Trevor can’t handle himself in a fight, but she repeatedly saves his life. She’s a semi-divine, and he’s merely human. It’s sort of the sit-com trope of the very competent wife and the bumbling husband, but it’s not something that often gets plunked into action films. Honestly, I couldn’t believe how rare it is for there to be a female superhero movie, especially when it seems like the audience out there has been very receptive to Wonder Woman.
I won’t go overboard in praising the film. It does feel like we’re sort of grading on a curve, both because DC’s other efforts have been _so_ disappointing and because we badly want a female superhero movie to do well. The movie had plenty of flaws. The action sequences, aside from the no man’s land sequence and the alleyway fight, felt a little lackluster. The villains weren’t really that menacing, and the movie didn’t feel very high-stakes, somehow.
Hmm, when I have to say what made the movie stand out or make it worth watching, I guess it’s just that Gal Gadot and Patty Jenkins kind of started to sketch out what a fantasy by, for, and about women might look like. In some ways, the fantasy is disquieting: Gal Gadot is thin, she’s white, she’s beautiful, and she’s innocent. She also quite frequently doesn’t wear very much in terms of clothing. But in some ways that feels like the flipside of male superhero movies. I mean, Chris Hemsworth is white and blonde and handsome and rugged and stoic. His Thor is an aspirational figure for men, created by men, but that doesn’t mean he’s not toxic.
In this movie, too, Gal Gadot becomes one of the boys. She does this by accepting and understanding their attempts at flirtation, by slogging it out with them in tough encounters, but by also maintaining a sort of den mother appeal and seeing to all of their various psychoses and neuroses. In this she sort of replicates what a lot of successful women do (and need to do) in the workplace. They have to become one of the boys, but not too much so. I mean how many sorority girls have played den mother to a pack of frat guys in exactly the same way? How many female management consultants or doctors or lawyers have performed the same function in an otherwise male workplace? The way that Wonder Woman becomes a leader of this group is subtle and clever, but it’s also open to criticism, because it’s so tied up with her beauty and with traditional gender roles.
And yet…I don’t know…she’s a fantasy. There should be other fantasies, I agree, but I think that the desire to have a perfect body is always going to be a part of our fantasies. It’s just that for women the desire to have a perfect body has these gross connotations: why do I want this? who do I want it for?
I think with Wonder Woman, and with movies and shows like it, there can be some effort to unpick that and to create an action-heroine aesthetic that’s more for women than for men. But obviously there’s a long way to go. And, equally obviously, I’m not a woman, so I can’t really opine too much further about this matter.
(Thinking about another recent release, I think part of the appeal of Robin Wright in House of Cards is that she’s beautiful, and she’s sexual, but she’s not entirely given over the male gaze. There is a severity and a coldness to her that is the opposite of Wonder Woman, and that she would I think be written very differently if the show wanted to make her fully available to men. In House of Cards, she’s sort of a femme fatale, but unlike Lauren Bacall in The Big Sleep, the show makes it clear that she needs a lot more from the world than a slap in the face and a hard kiss.)